Watch NASA's Psyche Spacecraft Being Built Before Its Billion-Mile Journey to Asteroid

NASA has begun the final assembly stage of its Psyche spacecraft, which will launch in 2022 to investigate a metal-rich asteroid in space.

The 140-mile-wide asteroid, also called Psyche, is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists think it is made of a mixture of rock and metal, and could have been the core of an early planet.

By learning more about how it was made, researchers might be able to gain insight into how other planets, including the Earth, were formed.

On Monday, NASA announced a major part of the spacecraft—the Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) chassis—had been delivered to the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California and that final assembly had started.

A video below shows the huge component being delivered to JPL's base in a huge truck, before being transported into the High Bay 1 Spacecraft Assembly Facility.

Throughout this year, NASA will finish building Psyche and put it through a series of tests before its planned launch in August 2022.

The SEP chassis was made by Maxar Technologies in California. It is a box-shaped structure about the size of a van and will end up taking up about 80 percent of Psyche's total mass when the spacecraft is finished.

The chassis includes a large 6.5-foot-wide antenna, a frame that will hold scientific instruments, and protective covers.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton, principal investigator of the Psyche mission, said in a statement: "Seeing this big spacecraft chassis arrive at JPL from Maxar is among the most thrilling of the milestones we've experienced on what has already been a 10-year journey.

"Building this complex, precision piece of engineering during the year of COVID is absolutely a triumph of human determination and excellence."

In the Psyche mission overview, NASA says: "Because we cannot see or measure Earth's core directly, Psyche offers a unique window into the violent history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planets."

Once Psyche takes off from Earth, it will cruise toward the asteroid belt for 3.5 years using a solar-electric propulsion system.

Maxar said in a statement: "The Psyche spacecraft will travel more than 1 billion miles and arrive at the asteroid in 2026, where it will spend 21 months orbiting the 140-mile-wide asteroid, mapping it and studying its properties."

The asteroid belt is a vast circle of space rocks orbiting the sun, positioned between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists think the asteroid belt is essentially leftover material from the early processes that formed the planets of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

The Psyche mission is led by Arizona State University, and NASA's JPL is responsible for managing the mission.

NASA Psyche spacecraft
This NASA photo, shot March 28, 2021 shows engineers and technicians preparing to move the Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) Chassis from its shipping container to a dolly in High Bay 1 of JPL’s Spacecraft Assembly Facility. NASA/JPL-Caltech